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Employee Loyalty: How to Create and Maintain a Loyal Team

“I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty.” —Samuel Goldwyn, American movie mogul.

Employee Loyalty: How to Create and Maintain a Loyal Team by Laura Stack #productivityTo paraphrase Forrest Gump, loyalty is as loyalty does. In recent years, some business leaders have bemoaned the death of old-fashioned employee loyalty, as workers realize that technology has freed them from some workplace restraints. Many have also decided they can get farther faster by jumping from one company to another, rather than by working their way through the hierarchy of one organization.

This is unfortunate, but it represents a natural evolution of the workplace. Conditions have changed drastically in the past several decades. Given global competition, the lingering Great Recession, and shareholder demands for greater value, most companies can no longer guarantee lifelong employment or provide traditional pensions. The loyalty guarantees workers once took for granted no longer exist…so it should come as no real surprise that many workers feel their leadership has no loyalty to them. In an environment like that, why should they feel loyal toward the company?

The New Paradigm

That said, employee loyalty need not be a thing of the past. No one really expects lifelong loyalty anymore, but you can certainly increase team loyalty to levels not seen for years if you’ll make just a few adjustments to the way you do business.

1. Treat your people with trust and respect. Your chief aim should be to make your team’s work easier, by clearing the way toward your organization and team goals. Respect your people by making those goals very clear, and show them you’re working as hard as they are. Don’t look down on your team members or dismiss their concerns, and give them the training and advice they need to do their jobs well. Shared respect has many routes, and you have to police them all.

2. Strive for consistency. Your people need to know they can predict your behavior, at least to some extent, and that you’ll treat everyone the same way no matter what. If they feel they can’t understand you, then how can they trust you? So when you make a promise, fulfill it. Follow through with your commitments. If a specific achievement earns someone an award, make sure everyone who captures that achievement gets the award. Display consistency with word and deed, and expect the same of your people. They will respect you for it.

3. Empower your workers. Give them the opportunity to own their jobs. If your team members can function without excess interference or overly-punitive responses to their mistakes, they’ll stay with you longer. Give them room to breathe, and let them take the initiative to improve their own output. They may surprise you by what they accomplish—and they’ll certainly find it easier to execute your strategy at a moment’s notice, especially if they don’t have to ask your permission first.

4. Lead. Your leadership position gives you the ability to shape other people’s lives by example. You can be sure your workers watch you constantly, so they’ll know if you ignore your own rules for working hours and leaving early. If you roll in half an hour late every day, spend two hours at lunch, and leave to play golf each Thursday promptly at two, you’ll lose their respect and worse, their loyalty. Leadership means more than just ordering people around; it means guidance, in everything from coaching to living up to your promises.

Looking Ahead

Accept the fact that business life has irrevocably changed due to technological and sociological evolution. No matter where you work or what you do, people will leave more regularly than you would like, and you’ll often be forced to bring new team members up to speed. Even innovative companies like Amazon and Google have surprisingly high turnover rates. You can’t hold onto people like your predecessors did decades ago, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. While money and position mean a great deal to employees, so do simple things like trust, compassion, respect, empowerment, good communications, and solid leadership.

Three Synergistic Partnerships

Three Synergistic Partnerships by Laura Stack #productivitySometimes, separate components can come together to form something far more valuable than the sum of its parts: a new chemical, a cake, a family, a business, a partnership. We call this “synergy.” It’s like the miracle of compound interest, if you think about it: one plus one equals way more than two. We’ve recognized the value of synergy throughout history, but it was only in the twentieth century that the great Buckminster Fuller created a term for it.

We often see synergy in teamwork situations, where individuals lend their strengths to a collaborative framework in such a way that the contributions slot together perfectly, growing into a greater whole that expands beyond their limits. Ideally, this is what we’re all reaching for as we build and shape our teams. When conditions are right, suddenly a new “organism” comes into being, a social or technological offspring independent of and greater than the contributors. This reaction can prove immensely profitable, whether culturally or economically, on a large scale or a small one.

Those of us who’ve paid attention to either history or modern society have seen how whole art-forms or industries can spring up seemingly out of nowhere, and supported, later, by large, thriving populaces of artists or technologists as they grow to maturity and bear their fruit. Consider the burgeoning of opera and musical theatre several centuries ago, for example, and today’s home computing revolution.

Let’s take a closer look at three synergistic teams on a small scale: pioneering pairs who, separately, did fine—but who built their passions to miraculous heights when they worked together.

Pair #1: Speaking of opera, let’s start with the famous Gilbert and Sullivan. Their comic operettas have become familiar parts of the grand tapestry of English-speaking culture, and some of their songs and lyrics have even entered common speech. You’ve probably heard of their Pirates of Penzance. Some consider Gilbert and Sullivan the fathers of modern musical theatre, that more accessible offshoot of grand opera.

W.S. Gilbert was a librettist, a specialist in writing the words for operas. He and composer Arthur Sullivan met in 1869 and proceeded to delight the Victorian world with their 14 topsy-turvy comedies, which theatre groups still perform today. Their innovations in content and form have shaped not just musical theater but film, literature, TV, and political discourse in the years since.

Both men built decent individual careers in their fields, careers in which they seemed happy enough. But fate intervened, a mutual friend introduced them, and once they started working together, something clicked—and their synergy delighted Victorian society. Gilbert’s sprightly lyrics, wrapped perfectly in Sullivan’s music, entertained and tweaked the noses of those in power without offending them. The two men eventually went their separate ways, never rising again to their former glory; but the fact remains that their synergistic glory did occur, and we still celebrate them for it.

Fast forward to the 1970s for Pair #2: Jobs and Wozniak. The two Steves were instrumental in creating the home computing revolution, building the first Apple computers in 1979. The very first Apple, mostly soldered together from off-the-shelf components in Wozniak’s garage, literally had a case made of plywood. Most people don’t realize that Apple introduced home computers before the rash of IBM clones many of us now use. In fact, the advent of IBM PCs forced them to invent something altogether new: the Macintosh.

Jobs and Wozniak seem an unusual pairing at first glance, because “the Woz” was an introverted loner, while Jobs was outgoing and energetic. But synergistic situations often form from the interactions, and even the clashes, between very different individuals brought together under the right circumstances. Indeed, the need to bridge this gap between personalities may be what makes collaborative synergy happen in the first place. Both men were very intelligent, and if they’d gone their separate ways earlier, would no doubt have done very well; but modern technology would have been the worse for it. In the end, their talents complemented each other.

Wozniak was the creator, the dreamer who holed up in his lab and built world-changing things. While also technically sophisticated, Jobs was the salesman: able to buy into Wozniak’s dream and sell it to the public at large. He also stimulated creativity in others. For proof, look no farther than how badly Apple fared after Jobs was forced out in the 1980s—and how well it did later, almost immediately after he took his job back.

Pair #3 is another high-tech partnership you may have heard of: Brin and Page. Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page didn’t really like each other when they first met in their Ph.D. program at Stanford, but eventually decided to work on a project together. Both were interested in creating a way to rank search engine results based on how many other sites linked into a particular page, and the quality of those incoming links. This page ranking system eventually led to the company they abandoned their degrees to create: a little something called Google. Google has done so well it’s literally become a household name. Its name has even entered the language as a verb, now accepted as such by all the major dictionaries. We’ve all “googled” something or someone, haven’t we?

Since their first search engine appeared, their company has burgeoned into an Internet giant, providing everything from news and social media to instant language-to-language translation, all with a wit that has endeared them to millions.

It’s hard to say precisely what each man brings to the partnership. Both are fiercely intelligent, and clearly their abilities and personal characteristics mesh very well. But Brin seems to be the daredevil of the group, as you can see just from browsing his personal pictures online. He takes chances: piloting, skydiving, occasionally hosting odd theme parties. He’s more outgoing, writing his Google+ blogs himself and personally answering emails. Larry Page seems much more private, and I suspect he provides stability and administrative capabilities to the partnership.

These inventive pairs offer just three examples of interpersonal synergy. There have been millions, no doubt; we’ve built our technological society on them. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to build synergy in your team, such energetic synergy that it yanks everyone forward in a quantum leap of productivity and profit. It may not come easy. It may not come at all. But if you can create the right conditions, open yourself up to the possibility, and lead your team down that yellow brick road to the future, you can learn what it’s like to contribute to a team and get far more back than you ever expected.

Make Low Employee Productivity a Thing of the Past

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” — Tom Peters, American business author.

Make Low Employee Productivity a Thing of the Past by Laura Stack #productivityTeamwork rules in the corporate environment. As the leader of your team—whether it consists of a small group, a division, or an entire corporation—the team’s success ultimately rests on your shoulders. While the stress of maintaining high productivity may “roll down the hill,” so to speak, you can divest yourself of only so much responsibility for your team’s performance.

Guaranteeing high performance may seem a daunting task, but it basically boils down to prevention and maintenance. Maintenance takes place when you have to jump in and fix something when it goes wrong. Preventive measures are put in place in the beginning to prevent breakdowns from happening in the first place. Try these tips to maximize day-to-day team performance:

1. Make accountability a watchword. While you do have the ultimate responsibility for your team’s performance, you can’t do the work yourself. So you must parcel out the tasks and hold your people responsible for getting them done on schedule and to correct standards. If accountability breaks down, deal with it right away, rather than allowing it to fester like an infected sore, or more problems will spread.

2. Follow up. When you delegate a project to a team member, trust that person to get it done—but verify. People appreciate being left alone to do the work, but don’t leave them alone. Follow up occasionally at set milestones to ensure everything is progressing on schedule and encourage them to reach out to you any time with challenges. It’s counterproductive to have things done incorrectly, so make sure you’re both on the same page.

3. Don’t micromanage. Checking up on people repeatedly, day after day, or standing over them watching them work does not fall under the heading of “following up”—that’s micromanagement. You’re wasting their time and yours, and it makes people nervous and less productive. Your title is “Manager,” not “Dictator.” You facilitate the business of the team; you don’t do it all yourself or waste time watching other people do it.

4. Encourage teamwork. Remind your team that you’re all part of the same organization and share the same basic goals and objectives. Emphasize each person’s place within the teamwork structure. Show team members how their work, in combination with everyone else’s, moves the whole structure forward. While no one wants to feel like a cog in some big corporate machine, we all still depend on each other to get our work done. We can do very few jobs without input from others, whether from above, below, or laterally. Remember the old sayings “two heads are better than one” and “many hands make light work”? Putting our heads together results in greater collective innovation and progress.

5. Motivate. Give people reasons to contribute discretionary time to the team. Offer them prizes when they excel, such as team lunches to vacations or gift certificates. Empower them to shine, and recognize them for it, so they’ll be more willing to take ownership of their work and pour their hearts and souls into it.

Reaching for the Moon

No matter what advice I or any other expert may offer, there’s no guarantee you’ll win Team of the Year in the annual Office Olympics. But I can guarantee that if you put these strategies in place and keep them well-tuned, you and your team will enjoy awesome productivity. Needless to say, what I’ve outlined here represents just a basic high-performance framework. Your job is to flesh out this skeleton with additional strategies and your own magic touches that tweak productivity higher with each passing quarter.